Fraud Trial: Cardinal sentenced to 5.5 years in Vatican

A Vatican court on Saturday sentenced a once powerful Italian cardinal to five years and six months in jail for financial crimes at the end of a historic trial.

Angelo Becciu, 75, a former adviser to Pope Francis who was once considered a papal contender himself, was the most senior clergyman in the Catholic Church to face a Vatican criminal court.

He and nine other defendants, including financiers, lawyers and ex-Vatican employees, were on trial for accusations of financial crimes focused on an opaque London property deal.

Court president Giuseppe Pignatone read out the verdict Saturday, with Becciu accused of embezzlement, abuse of office and witness tampering.

His lawyer, Fabio Viglione, said they respected the sentence but would “certainly” appeal. He was also handed a fine of 8,000 euros.

At the heart of the trial is the 350-million-euro ($380-million) purchase of a luxury property in London, as part of an investment that began in 2014 and ended up costing the Vatican tens of millions of euros.

The trial, which began in July 2021, has shone a light on the Holy See’s murky finances, which Pope Francis has sought to clean up since taking the helm of the Catholic Church in March 2013.

It is also a test of his reforms.

Just weeks before the trial, Francis gave the Vatican’s civilian courts the power to try cardinals and bishops, where previously they were judged by a court presided over by cardinals.

Prosecutor Alessandro Diddi had requested seven years and three months in jail for Becciu, and between almost four and 13 years for the others.

Becciu had always strongly protested his innocence, denouncing the accusations against him as “totally unfounded” and insisting he never took a cent.

For its part, the Holy See viewed itself as “an offended party” and has asked through Secretary of State Pietro Parolin for the court to “punish all crimes”.

Four Vatican entities are civil parties. They had requested compensation from the defendants, including 177 million euros for moral and reputational damage.

Charitable causes

Since the trial opened, there have been more than 80 hearings in the dedicated room within the Vatican Museums, where a portrait of a smiling Pope Francis hangs on the wall.

The process had been mired by procedural wrangling, with defence lawyers complaining about a lack of access to key evidence.

Becciu, a globe-trotting former Vatican diplomat, has been a near constant presence in the courtroom.

He was number two in the Secretariat of State, the Vatican department that works most closely with the pope, from 2011 to 2018.

He was moved to lead the department that deals with the creation of saints, before abruptly resigning in September 2020, after being informed of an investigation against him.

Initially, he told the trial, this was about a probe into 125,000 euros of Vatican money he donated to a charity in his native Sardinia, which prosecutors claim benefited his brother, who ran the organisation.

But he was later drawn into investigations into the purchase and sale of the property on London’s Sloane Avenue – resulting in losses that, according to the Vatican, dipped into resources intended for charitable causes.

When the trial opened, prosecutors painted a picture of risky investments with little or no oversight and double-dealing by both outside consultants and insiders.

Among the defendants are two brokers involved in the London deal, Gianluigi Torzi and Raffaele Mincione, as well as Enrico Crasso, a former Vatican investment manager, and former Vatican employee Fabrizio Tirabassi.

Becciu is also accused over payments made to a Sardinian woman, Cecilia Marogna – who is also on trial – which he claims were to help negotiate the release of a Colombian nun kidnapped in Mali.

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